If you’re what’s sometimes known as a “woman of a certain age” it’s easy enough to support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for president. Or it used to be before she started actually running and discovered – lo and behold – there were others in the race.
These days, the former first lady and her husband are doing a bang-up job of reminding me – since I’m old enough to remember – how annoyingly imperious the two of them are when someone stands in their way. Only these days, the craven campaigning isn’t being played out against a reasonably peaceful background of domestic policy issues. It’s a campaign for a job that really matters at a time when the stakes have not been higher, national and internationally.
In its campaign to regain the White House the Clinton family in the full-on version of its semi-permanent campaign mode is anxious to blame any and every Republican in sight – even one they’ve had to bring back from the dead – for the problems this country has right now.
The problem with this strategy is that Bill Clinton was not a great president. He was a perfectly capable leader. He remains a stunningly gifted politician. But his eight years in Washington weren”t exactly breathtaking. And seeds of some of what’s so very wrong today were planted and took root in those eight years.
Let’s take the crisis one melt-down at a time. We have a war in the Middle East that’s created a constant state of crisis moving from one slightly stable nation – Lebanon – to another – Pakistan. Hillary Clinton voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Why? Because, like her husband, notes Christopher Hitchens, she believed that a confrontation with the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussien was “inevitable.” And, like President Bush, she thought that the U.S. power to hold sway in the region would remain unquestioned.
Other Clinton habits – a faith in free markets usually at home in the Republican party – play a role in our current mess as well. The reality is that global markets need global regulation and oversight and the U.S. inability to oversee its own house – from the tech-bubble shenanigans of the late 1990s to the mortgage free-for-all of the past few years – are rooted in a blind and naive faith in the market to police itself. That thinking – free of any serious discussion of consequences – was welcomed into the Democratic party by Bill Clinton.
That’s really the issue at the heart of my renewed disenchantment with the Clinton’s. They won’t try anything too new and they hate to be associated with anything terribly unpopular. Hillary Clinton is a smart and thorough policy wonk. But wonks don’t lead – they implement. And what’s needed now is a daring kind of leadership that’s focused a little less on winning re-election and a little more on innovative solutions to pressing problems.
A few years ago, those of us who opposed the U.S invasion of Iraq needed leadership, rhetoric and speechifying to oppose the administration’s plans. We didn’t get it. Today, what’s needed now is some smart economic rhetoric that assures international markets that the U.S. has its financial house in order and that the nation’s future leader understands global financial markets. Hear any?
Me neither. Instead, Clinton’s offering is criticism of Barack Obama for his observation that Ronald Reagan was good at leading the country and talk about global economic task forces. Listening to her, you’d think it was 1992. She’ll be saying “it’s the economy, stupid” in a few minutes – watch.
The irony here is that Ronald Reagan was good at leading the country – people followed and liked him. If he were alive today he’d have managed to get off one smart quip designed to set the markets at ease. Or watching U.S. banks and corporations take investments from foreign governments he’d have stood up and demanded the same access – tear down those walls – to foreign government banks as those nations enjoy here.
Sadly that sort of thinking isn’t coming from Clinton. No, she’s focused on jobs – which may as Republican candidate John McCain recently suggested in Michigan – never coming back. Or she’s prattling on about voting records and slumlords, hoping – and she will probably succeed – in putting Barack Obama in his place.
Obama, of course, isn’t doing a whole lot better when it comes to ideas about economic policy. But here’s something he has done well on the foreign policy front: Promise something that looks like hope because he’s talking about new and innovative solutions to problems. And while it may not be morning in America – that famous Reagan ad that reassured American voters there were better days ahead – it sure looks better than another eight years of finger-pointing, backbiting, and bickering.